Exploring the dark side of the internet: How social media can make us do things that we wouldn’t normally do
05/09/2018 // Lance D Johanson // Views

A study from Michigan State University explored the dark side of the internet and showed how social media can make people do things they wouldn’t normally do. The study, published in Present Tense Journal, took a closer look at something called supraplatforms, which are user experiences across social media platforms that manipulate social media users to perform actions they aren’t aware of and which aren’t in their best interest.

Often times, social media acts as a mask, shielding users from the repercussions of their typewritten words. Social media allows users to boast and vent frustrations about certain things, things a person wouldn't normally blurt out-loud in a crowded room of real people. These internet masks change how people interact online, creating a dereliction in how people represent themselves and how people treat one another online.

Supraplatforms are built from this sensation. When someone posts praise or criticism about something or someone, it gives them more power. That power is multiplied when other online users get behind the praise or criticism. An errant rumor about someone online can quickly garner passionate emotional support from many social media users. These emotionally manipulated users can be tricked into attacking or terrorizing certain users, groups, or belief systems that are the center of the rumor or accusation.

Your tweet, hash tag, or comments online may not be coming from an authentic place inside you. Scrolling Facebook makes you less likely to have an original thought of your own, allowing you to mindlessly echo what you've read. You could be manipulated into supporting an attack on someone or some group. Your emotions might be susceptible online to engage in dark patterns where you perform actions that aren’t in your best interest. For example, the trending news that Facebook portrays on its homepage can motivate many Facebook users to engage in conversations and take sides they wouldn’t normally take up. You might think the topic is relevant because Facebook advertised it as a trending topic, but you’re really just being manipulated to think within their paradigm.


Supraplatforms take place across social media networks to garner your support for or against something, using your emotions to force actions you wouldn’t normally take. The repercussions grow as more people are manipulated to take sides against people and causes.

Online comments can quickly build peer pressure

In the GamerGate controversy, one angry social media user inspired thousands of others to back his movement, multiply his messages, and cyberbully innocent users. The thousands who participated didn’t even know they were being used. These online movements aren't always destructive. “The important thing to consider is what kind of behavior is this community encouraging?” says lead author Liza Potts “If the community is asking you to take action on something, it is definitely worth thinking twice about participating.”

In GamerGate, one person’s rumor about a female game developer became a viral cyberbully movement. The unsubstantiated accusations, originating from the woman’s ex-partner, were represented by the hashtag #GamerGate on Twitter. Other gamers got on board with the attack and shared their negative sentiment about the game developer. The movement got louder. As people disagreed with them and combated the accusations, more people chimed in, for or against. Other inflammatory messages grew from the argument, spurring broader arguments about women, victimization, and media. People who had nothing to do with the original conversation were forced to defend themselves and their position on broader issues. The arguments spilled into Reddit, YouTube, and Facebook, as the original purveyor of the rumor garnered more attention.

“Once certain high-profile Twitter users saw that they could make a name for themselves by polarizing pop culture and other groups involved, it became a free-for-all for those wanting their own attention,” said Michael Trice, co-author of the study.

Facebook, like other social media platforms, is designed to give people "anti-depressant" dopamine rushes as they seek more and more "likes" on their posts. Scrolling Facebook makes you more likely to want admiration from your peers.

The study said that supraplatforms and dark patterns are always taking form across social media platforms and these emotionally manipulative movements change the way people engage with one another, not just online, but in person too. “What seems like a simple conversation on one site can often be part of a much larger operation that spans many different networks," Trice said. "It’s pretty easy to fall in with a crowd on one platform, receive lots of positive feedback for aggressive behavior and then expand that behavior elsewhere. In that way, it’s not unlike falling in with a bad crowd in other parts of life."

For more on the dark side of social media, visit Censored.News.

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